Leadership and Emotional Response

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What makes a good leader? Most often people answer this question with traits or qualities, like someone who motivates, inspires, challenges, has knowledge, and power. But, what makes someone a good leader isn’t about the qualities they possess—it’s the emotional response they evoke in people.

I recently attended a local event where I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation from Betsy Myers. If you’re not familiar with her, Betsy was a senior official in the Clinton administration and was the senior advisor to Barack Obama’s 2007-08 presidential campaigns. Her expertise in leadership and women’s initiatives is quite extensive.

If her background isn’t impressive enough, her speech was. What made it so impressive was the simplicity of her message. Leadership is around us everywhere. It’s recognizing it and developing it that can bring out the best in others and ourselves.

While there were many thought-provoking topics discussed, three main points were the foundation of her speech:

  • Leadership is about self-knowledge and honest self-reflection. It’s about knowing what your strengths and your weaknesses are. It’s asking questions, listening, and making educated decisions that are best for the whole. And, most importantly, it’s about being aware of your own actions and how they impact the overall results and making adjust accordingly.
  • Leadership is about asking questions. You don’t have to know all the answers. A good leader recognizes that knowledge is more about knowing where you can go to get the answers than knowing everything.
  • Leadership is about how you make someone feel. My husband and I talk regularly about this. He’s always telling me I let emotions get in the way sometimes. While his sentiment may be true, the reality is that emotion is an integral part of leadership. When people feel good about their work or a project they are participating in, they excel at what they do. I can’t expect everyone to love their job the way that I do, but if they feel good about what they are working on, they will be more effective. Isn’t that the goal?

I reflect back to the leadership classes I participated in high school, the seminars I attended in college, and the workshops I’ve attended over the years and Betsy’s message hit closest to home. Why? Because it’s true: Leadership isn’t about qualities, it’s about emotional response. I bought her book and look forward to exploring more about her message. Stay tuned. You may be hearing more about this topic sooner than later.

Written by: Kasie Smith is West Michigan Woman magazine's publisher. She is a Michigan native. She was born in Traverse City, and now lives in Grand Rapids. She enjoys golfing, spending time in the sun, and watching romantic comedies with her very own leading men, her husband Jason and her twin boys.

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